Jason Truesdell : Pursuing My Passions
A life in flux. Soon to be immigrant to Japan. Recently migrated this blog from another platform after many years of neglect (about March 6, 2017). Sorry for the styling and functionality potholes; I am working on cleaning things up and making it usable again.

Welcome to the world, Tiger

November 7, 2010, 10:18 PM


When I was younger I never really imagined becoming a father. I was well-trained by my mother, who, having given birth to a nearly 11 pound me at age 19, encouraged her own children, on this one task, to be true procrastinators.

But a few years ago, when Hiromi and I got married, the idea no longer gave me nightmares. I had a rewarding early adulthood, with plenty of opportunity to do crazy and not-so-crazy things.

I went to college, and immersed myself in literature, politics, and examinations of a world beyond the comfortable boundaries of my mostly suburban and rural childhood. I studied in Germany. I traveled to Japan, Korea, England, Ireland, and China. I learned to jog, lost a lot of weight, hurt myself, and gained it back. I ate well. I developed some professional skills, and ran away from that world for a couple of years to try something risky and outside of my comfort zone. Then I came back to software, and was actually better at it the second time around, with less emotional investment in my achievements or professional status. I helped grow a strong, cohesive community of Japanese-speaking people in my little corner of the world. I had developed a relationship with a fantastic woman, who helped me grow in all sorts of ways and made me a far more interesting person. Having a child no longer seemed like some encumbrance on my enjoyment of life… it seemed like a natural step in the evolution of our lives together.

This year, we took that step.

Kojiro joined us at 1:21 pm on September 8, after Hiromi endured a solid 37 hours of labor. He started out slightly irritated, not pleased with having been summarily evicted from his comfortable home of the last 9 or 10 months.

But he quickly calmed down, and we were pleased that within minutes of life he proved to be an incredibly curious, contemplative, alert newborn. He was fascinated by everyone, unless they put him on the hospital bassinet, or on the scale, which irritated him immensely. He quickly learned that most of the time being in either spot would soon involve a collection of blood or injection of a hepatitis B vaccine or contact with some cold medical instrument. We’re fairly convinced he may never sleep peacefully in a crib again; he certainly hasn’t taken to it in the two months since his birth.

Hiromi’s been unable to sleep more than an hour or so straight since, well, September 5. Hiromi was rooting for our child to be born while her friend, an Ob/Gyn who grew up in the same neighborhood as her, was on a short visit to Seattle during Japan’s Silver Week holidays. Hiromi was convinced going to Bumbershoot together might speed things along.

If that’s true, it’s quite possible that we can credit standing out in the rain listening to Mary J. Blige on the last night of Bumbershoot with Hiromi’s friend with the timely arrival of our child. Not long after we got home that Monday night, Hiromi’s early labor started, and things progressed slowly but steadily thereafter, and she had not a moment’s comfort or rest until the big event.

Hiromi’s friend accompanied us to Swedish’s delivery suite, and my mother arrived just a few hours before Kojiro was born. He’s now a second-generation Swedish baby; I was born in the same hospital, in a different building, almost 37 years ago.

Two months in, we’re starting to settle in to a routine. Our son, however, has not. Maybe in a couple of decades, we’ll start to understand how this parenting thing is supposed to work, but in the meantime, we’re just improvising.

Nettle soup with horseradish sour cream

April 27, 2010, 10:14 PM

The first time I knowingly ate anything involving stinging nettles was a jarred salsa sold by a Tibetan immigrant family in Seattle. I haven’t seen their products for years, so I’m not really sure what happened to them, but I guess they haven’t single-handedly pushed the bottled stinging nettle sauce industry past the tipping point.

Nettle soup with spanish paprika, horseradish sour cream

Every spring, I see some forager offering stinging nettles at farmer’s markets, but so far I haven’t been convinced to take any home. Last spring, Hiromi and I had a late night snack at Poppy, where we had an overly salty, innocuously flavored nettle “risotto” which was interesting but seemed not to do much for the nettles or the rice. I was fairly convinced there’s just not much to the nettle but the sting.

But then, a few weeks ago, Hiromi and I decided to have dinner at our neighborhood Basque restaurant, Harvest Vine, which featured a simple sounding nettle soup on the menu. We decided to go for it.

Wow. It was surprisingly deeply flavored. Served chilled, it came with a side of crouton and not much else, but it totally redeemed the nettle for me.

Granted, I suspect that cream and Spanish paprika pulled more weight than the nettles themselves, but we figured that if that’s all it took to make the nettle great, we could pull off something compelling on our own. A few days later, the guys at Sosio’s told me they had a stash of nettles in the back, and I was an easy mark.

I took some of the same basic inspirations as the Harvest Vine version, complete with the smoky paprika, but I wanted to make it my own. When I got home the night we made this, I spent a few minutes stinking up our home grating fresh horseradish root. Hiromi started tearing up the second she got home. I used some of the root for an oil-based vinaigrette that I reserved for other purposes, but I also whipped some of it into some sour cream.

Dinner: nettle soup, ramp and morel omelet, coconut blackeye peas

The sour cream topped the nettle soup when the soup was ready to go. It added a great pungency and a refreshing contrast. Apparently, this particular approach is fairly common in Scandinavian and Northern European preparations of the nettle, but I didn’t know any better.

A dirty secret about stinging nettles: they need to be cooked fairly aggressively to remove their, well, sting. They do have a flavor, but it’s not a really intense one; it’s essentially vegetal. More robust than spinach, not as earthy and chewy as lacinato kale, they seem to respond well to being pureed, but they need a little special treatment. I soaked them in warm, but not hot, water for just about 10 minutes. Then I rinsed them, and cooked them down in a pressure cooker for a few minutes. Not only that, but one of the little stems stuck my finger as I was trying to push down the leaves that were in the way of me closing the lid. For the next twenty-four hours, my finger had a strange tingly sensation.

I did ice-water shock them after the pressure cooker to keep them from turning into something unrecognizable, but right after that, they went straight to the blender. Because the puree is a bit rough, I pushed the remaining greens through a sieve to keep the result smooth, and seasoned them with salt and the paprika before adding cream and vegetable stock.

We served the soup with some little crostini brushed with basil olive oil, topped with mozzarella and scallions.Ramp and morel omelet

We also had some black beans seasoned with some chilies, lime and coconut milk, and maybe the Indonesian spice blend that we’ve been using from World Spice, if memory serves correctly.

Finally, we had a really nice buttery omelet with wild ramps and morels, similar to this frittata I made a few years ago.

Nettles are probably done for the year in the Seattle area, but you may still have a little luck left. Let me know if you manage to track them down.

It was perhaps overkill for a weeknight dinner, but it worked out really nicely and the only hard work was preparing the nettles for use.


Sunday crullers, Saturday scones

April 25, 2010, 6:28 PM

This is why, given a choice, you should either learn to cook or find someone to spend your weekend mornings with who can cook.

Crullers with cinnamon sugar

Crullers with Cinammon Sugar

Crullers have nearly disappeared from the shelves of most donut shops, mostly due to the fact that they’re seen as a bit more labor intensive than ordinary donuts. I find it hard to believe that there no machines exist that could reduce the burden, but the fact that they’re now so hard to find presents opportunities for the industrious home cook.

And here’s the thing: They’re not really that much work. Perhaps they pennies don’t work out when you’re making them on the scale that a bakery would need to, but I was able to go from nothing to having them on the table in about 35 minutes. I only made six, but I’m sure I could have scaled up the recipe to about 24 pieces without adding more than a few minutes work.

This is just a classic pâte à choux with a little added vanilla. I added salt and sugar in roughly the same ratio I would use for cream puffs, with perhaps a bit more salt than usual. I pipe the dough out onto waxed paper. There are a few ways you can pipe them, depending on the visual effect you want; I piped small stars in six segments. An alternative would be to use the star tip, twisting gradually, making one continuous round shape.

After piping, I stuck them in the freezer for just about 10 minutes to firm up, which makes them easier to drop into the fryer. They could have easily been kept in the freezer for a week or so. This time, though, I took advantage of the simplicity of the ratio and made just the amount I thought we’d need, which was about 60 ml water, 30 grams. butter, 30 grams flour, and 60 grams eggs (about 2 whole eggs). This makes slightly more than 6 crullers.

Last winter, the first time I made these, I underestimated how much they would expand in the fryer. The steam pressure causes them to blow up into about four times their original size, so make sure you keep that in mind when shaping them. Think small.

I fried them for about 5 minutes total, flipping them about half way through to let them brown evenly. They continue to darken a bit after they’re pulled from the oil.

This time, I dusted them with sugar mixed with cinnamon and a pinch of salt. They could have just as easily been glazed, or chocolate dipped.

What I really like about crullers is how sweet they aren’t, even after they’re dusted with sugar.

Blood orange scones

Blood Orange Scones

Not that long ago, I posted about some very basic scones served with blood orange jam.  Hiromi was craving scones for breakfast yesterday. I remembered that I had recently prepared a pseudo-marmalade of blood oranges meant to serve over waffles not that long ago. The leftovers contained only a little liquid, and a lot of blood orange peel.

So I thought I might make good use of them by incorporating them into the basic scone pastry. I placed the peels on a cutting board and chopped them a bit more finely than I had them originally, then added them to the dough just before the final splash of milk that holds them together.

The result? Success! The scones needed only the slightest splash of milk since they still had a little residual liquid from the blood oranges. The blood orange added a great aroma and a little bitterness. I was worried that they’d get a little tough since I was adding another step to the process, but they turned out tender yet crisp, just as I wanted.

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A rare braised pork dish

April 6, 2010, 10:19 PM

Rare only for me, of course. As regular readers know, I’m as close to vegetarian as possible for someone who travels to Japan on a regular basis.

Hiromi’s doctor said she’s got somewhat low iron levels. We’ve been mitigating that a bit with supplements and with a heavier use of beans and darker greens, and Hiromi’s been consuming a fair amount of orange or tangerine juice to help absorption. But it’s a lot easier to deal with this kind of challenge by incorporating more red meat and liver in to a diet than to rely on vegetarian sources of iron, and Hiromi only practices vegetarianism when I cook, and I’m far from dogmatic. So we’ve made some little adjustments.


Cooking is usually my job, though, and since Hiromi usually cleans up after the aftermath of my food, I don’t mind making the occasional carnivorous dish for her benefit.

I took some aniseed, coriander seed, allspice, black pepper, some dried smoky chilies, and the seeds from a couple of cardamom pods and ground them in my spice grinder, then mixed this with a bit of salt. I rubbed the pork with this mixture and some olive oil, then I added the seasoned meat to a hot pressure cooker. I let the meat brown a bit, then turned each piece to brown on at least two other sides. I pulled the browned meat out of the pan and let it rest while sauteeing some onions with some young ginger.

I tossed in some quartered mushrooms  with a bit more salt. Finally, I added some rolling-cut carrots and a stick of chopped celery to the mix, completing the mirepoix trinity. Then I added a half cup of read wine and a half cup of water, and restored the meat to the pan. I put the pressure cooker’s lid in place. Once it reached full pressure, I let it cook for 10 minutes.

Hiromi discovered it wasn’t quite perfectly tender when the valve released, so I brought it back to pressure and reduced the temperature to the lowest possible setting that would keep the pressure up. I’m not quite sure how long we let it cook, but it was probably about 25 minutes total.

When the valve released the second time, it seemed ready to serve. When Hiromi tasted it at the table, she reported it was surprisingly tender. We only served about half of it, and it was more than enough with the other dishes we had prepared, so she had a bit leftover for lunch the next day or so.

It was pretty easy to pull off, apparently satisfying enough, and probably no more complicated than anything else we made that night. Braised pork. Pressure cooker. I can work with that.


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Our pagan Easter Sunday

April 4, 2010, 1:47 PM

Last night we visited a friend who had planned a sort of traditional lamb dinner, to be followed by Easter egg decoration. I don’t really remember much about Easter dinners from my childhood, since we focused more on the egg thing, so I brought some gougeres made with Valdeon blue cheese (which I’m sure I’ll make again, but I didn’t take a photo), and pressure-cooked baby artichokes prepared with shallots, Meyer lemons, garlic, butter, olive oil, and a splash of wine, and a broccolini dish.

The one child present fell asleep before we got to the egg decoration, so the adults took over that very important responsibility. We took a few of them home with us for breakfast this morning.Easter eggs, made by adults

Hiromi made Doraemon. Mine is the ugly one in back. It was supposed to be an owl, but turned out to look more like Frank Zappa.

Apple coffee cake

For breakfast, I made an apple coffee cake with a little allspice, black pepper, cinnamon, clove, and grains of paradise. It’s topped with a simple salted butter streusel. I was a little careless, so it turned out slightly underbaked, so it was a bit pudding-like, but still perfectly serviceable. I used very little sugar, so it was more spicy than sweet. Next time, I should let it bake a bit longer.

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Green beans and unseasonable caprese

April 1, 2010, 11:20 PM

Hiromi always says that when I’m trying to use up ingredients, the results are often more exciting than when I do something more planned. I think that’s been the case since I was in college, when I would sometimes change course after I started cooking if a particular whim struck me as a good idea.

Usually on weeknights, I’ve got a few ingredients in less than ideal condition that have been sitting around too long. The purple mashed potatoes from my previous entry were in that category, and the ton of bell peppers in that Pope’s bean dish were also completely driven by excess.DSC_0668

I don’t know how many times I’ve made some variation of this simple side, but we always like sautéed green beans. This one had onions, mushrooms, red bell peppers, garlic, and smoked paprika, and was made with those skinny so-called French style green beans sometimes called haricots vert. “Green beans” apparently sound much more sophisticated when rendered literally in French.


Normally I don’t attempt to make anything remotely like insalata caprese this time of year, but we had some better-than-average-for-this-time-of-year strawberry tomatoes, which are slightly larger than cherry tomatoes and a bit more flavorful. If I were a little more industrious, I might have roasted them a bit first, but this was still pretty good for a completely out-of-season dish. I’d be a little embarrassed to serve this for company, as the tomatoes were a lot more tart than they were sweet, but they beat anything you’d find in a supermarket this time of year.

Pope’s beans and purple mashed potatoes

March 31, 2010, 11:16 PM

These Peruvian beans, called fagioli del papa in Italian, have a robust flavor and a dramatic color. This was just a quick-and-dirty weeknight preparation, so I don’t even remember exactly how I seasoned it, but I know I used za’atar, onions, garlic, and a mix of bell peppers, along with a touch of tomato. I boiled the beans themselves with a few allspice berries and bay leaves, just enough to make the beans a bit more mysterious but not so much as to compete with the final seasoning.

Fagioli del papa, Pope's beans

Anyway, we liked the results, even with fairly odd combination of ingredients.

I rescued a few lonely purple potatoes that had been sitting neglected, almost forgotten, in a brown paper bag. After boiling them, I pressed them through a potato ricer, and brought them back to my smallest sauce pan to cook them with a little butter and salt. I stirred in milk gradually, then I finished them off with an unhealthy dose of medium-aged gouda.

Purple potatoes pureed on the stove

I don’t know how to make mashed potatoes look interesting, but this version was fun, and like with any other version, butter does most of the work. Milk softens the color quite a bit, so the result leaned a bit lavender.

Purple potatoes pureed with butter, milk and 1-year-aged gouda

The puree, while not especially pretty, was surprisingly smooth. I usually don’t stir mashed potatoes much after ricing them, for fear of turning them into glue, but I must have gotten the temperature just right, because they were almost impossibly creamy. Despite the suggestion of the little pat of butter on top used to finish them, I used only a couple of tablespoons of butter in the puree itself, for about a half pound of potatoes. Good and simple.

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Gobodoki in roasted gobo soup

March 30, 2010, 10:03 PM

Ganmodoki, a deep-fried tofu dumpling, are kind of a staple of Kyoto-style tofu cuisine, and find their way into nimono, among other things. I’ve made them before, but this time, I took a slightly different route.

Roasted gobo soup with burdock ganmodoki


Inspired by a crazy cheap deal on burdock root at Rising Sun Produce in Seattle’s International District, I decided to emulate a soup Hiromi and I tried years ago at Del Cook, a French restaurant in a rural extension of Osaka in the Nose valley, made with Japanese burdock root, called gobo.

I took bunch of burdock roots and roasted them in the oven with a bit of salt until the burdock softened up a bit, probably around 20-30 minutes. Then I broke out the blender and busted up the roasted roots with some milk and vegetable soup stock. The process took a bit longer than I would have liked, but even after all that pureeing, I discovered that the texture of the mixture was far chewier than I’d want in bisque-like soup. At first, in denial, I tried pressing on, seasoning the liquid with salt and some “Balinese Seasoning” that I first discovered at World Spice Merchants a few months ago, cooked in a bit of butter. But I realized chewy wasn’t going to work for this, and I needed to find some workaround.

So I pushed the liquid through a sieve, extracting as much as I could manage. I realized I had a lot of burdock fiber that might still be put to good use. If we eat all this roughage in kimpira-gobo, there must be some way to make it edible, right? That’s when ganmodoki came to mind. I got myself a block of momen-doufu, medium-firm tofu, broke it up, and mixed it with the solids from my sieving efforts, along with black and white sesame seeds. The ratio was probably about 1:1 burdock fiber and tofu, without considering the seasonings. Even before I fried them, the mixture tasted pretty nice, so I had some confidence that things would work out. The chewy texture that had caused me consternation in the soup was nicely mitigated by the custardy texture of the tofu, and in a solid form, whatever fiber in the texture remained was far less disconcerting.

Roasted gobo soup with burdock ganmodoki

Using a couple of spoons, I made small balls out of the solids and placed them into the deep fryer.

I was surprised at how deeply the ganmodoki browned. There’s a touch of sugar in the spice blend I used, and probably a reasonable amount of sugar in burdock root itself, but I have never had this kind of result when making more conventional ganmodoki. Even deeply browned, the little balls were pretty tender inside, and just barely held together.

I modified the soup from my original plan, incorporating some pureed cannelini for protein, so in many ways, save for my use of burdock root in place of the cheddar in the version of the soup that was recently featured in Seattle’s Japanese newspaper, Soy Source, it was not a huge departure from that. The roasted burdock totally transforms the flavor from rich to earthy, so they’re certainly not identical. Certainly, the little tweaks are proof that you can make very small changes to a dish and turn it into something nearly unrecognizable. The white beans contributed protein and some iron to a dish that would otherwise best serve as a small side dish, making it a more substantial part of dinner.

To serve, I ladled the liquid into onion soup bowls, and placed three pieces of the “gobodoki” (half gobo, half ganmodoki) on top. I was convinced Hiromi would groan at my bad Japanese wordplay when I unabashedly mashed two unrelated words together, but she embraced the name unreservedly.

To finish, I topped the soup with deep-fried, salt-sprinkled burdock root. We served it with some gnocchi alla romana, which I’ll try to feature in a future post. A little bread and a nice green vegetable side dish would make a nice alternative.

I really like the Balinese seasoning spice mixture that in my cream-style soups. I have no idea if it even resembles anything actually used in Indonesia, but that’s beside the point; the dishes I’ve made with it so far simply aren’t indigenous to any particular country, so I feel free to do whatever tastes good. I dig the shallot, lemongrass and peanut base notes that it provides in anything creamy. There’s a little cinnamon, white pepper, and chili in there, and a hint of dried ginger, so it adds a little magic to anything it touches.

It’s spring, so it must be time for warabi

March 29, 2010, 9:00 AM

The last couple of weekends we’ve been taking advantage of the fiddlehead fern fronds found at Sosio’s. Go get them before they disappear for the rest of the year!

Fiddlehead fern fronds, aka warabi

We’ve been preparing them using our usual nimono-style treatment… Blanch briefly in a boiling solution of water and baking soda to remove aku, or bitterness, shock in ice water, then gently poach in dashi (or really, any soup stock), soy sauce, sake, a little mirin, and, if needed, additional salt and sugar.

Maybe I’ll do them another way before the season ends, but somehow this simple version pleases me the most.

I’ve written about them before, but the easiest flavor comparison to make is to white asparagus. They’re slightly bitter, as you’d expect from white asparagus, and some of the sweetness and you’d expect from asparagus, but they have a bit more of a foresty aroma.

They usually only have a 4-8 week run, depending on factors that I don’t yet know how to predict. I think they’ve come in a bit early this year, as I’ve gradually been trained to expect them sometime in April. But if morels can be early, so can warabi. In any event, if you want to give them a try, get them while you can.

Orange scones with blood orange jam

March 28, 2010, 9:43 PM

For years, I was impressed more by the idea of scones than the reality of scones. It’s mostly because I made the mistake of buying them at coffee shops, where they cost about $3 and generally taste stale and tough and excessively sweet. They typically rather unimpressively attempt to make up for their inadequacies,  especially the fact that they aren’t served with good butter and jam, by replacing all of the textural greatness of a fresh scone with sugar.

Orange scones

Freshly-baked scones are an entirely different animal. They’re aromatic, crisp yet tender, and need very little sugar of their own if served with a little butter and jam. The best thing is that they need so little effort to prepare. The dough comes together in two or three minutes, and they take just 20-25 minutes to bake. It’s easier than pie.

 A closer look, orange scones

This morning, we woke up late and hungry. I was almost tempted to make a trip to a bakery, but then I realized I would have to shower and shave before I was fully awake, and that would make Sunday morning seem far too much like a normal workday for anyone’s good. To arrange for fresh scones, I just needed to stumble into the kitchen, preheat the oven, and pull together a few simple ingredients.

 Orange scones, Harbor Island grapefruit, blood orange jam

I follow a simple ratio to get decent scones no matter what I put into them: 1 stick of butter, 1.5 cups of flour, about a teaspoon of baking powder, 1 egg, and a little bit of milk, yogurt, cream, or sometimes sour cream. I almost always add a bit of salt, and for sweet scones, I add probably no more than 3 tablespoons sugar. Today, I had a nice orange in the refrigerator, so I grated about a teaspoon’s worth of zest to flavor the scones. A little vanilla would be nice, too.

The dry ingredients just need to be sifted together and the butter cut in gently. When I get this far, I make a well in the middle, and I add the egg and a splash of milk. I stir the liquid in the well and gently fold the ingredients until the mass comes together.

One scone, slightly eaten, with blood orange jam

Then I just roll out the scones to an even thickness, cut them into small triangles, and bake them. To make them a little prettier, I brush them with a little egg wash and sprinkle on pearled sugar, but that’s totally optional.

The scones just need to be baked at around 375F until they look nice and gently browned, usually about 20-25 minutes.

They’re buttery enough when fresh out of the oven that we usually don’t do more than eat them with some nice jam unless we’ve got some truly spectacular butter or some Devon cream around. Today, we cracked open a blood orange gelée-style jam that we found in a little tea shop in Hannover, Germany over the New Year holiday. This jam, which is flavored with a little Cointreau, had a nice complexity and I may steal the idea if I ever take up canning.

The moral of the story: Don’t settle for bad scones. Just make them yourself, and they’ll be miles above the quality of nearly anything you can buy.

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